group of person walking in mountain

Top Hiking Essentials for Every Outdoor Adventure

Stepping onto a trail, whether for a casual stroll or an ambitious trek, requires some forethought about your hiking essentials. Packing the right gear can elevate your enjoyment and safety on the trail. Choosing these items might feel overwhelming, especially with a market overflowing with countless brands and products. Don’t worry, every hiker starts somewhere.

Essential Hiking Gear

Picking the right hiking essentials for your needs and comfort is crucial for an enjoyable experience. While this will look different for every hiker and every trail, some staples are universally important. Here’s a breakdown of must-have hiking gear:

AllTrails Hiking Navigation

Smartphones have become invaluable for navigation, and apps like AllTrails (my go-to for finding new hikes), Gaia GPS (a more powerful tool for experienced hikers), and OnX (a great option for both beginners and experienced hikers) make it easier than ever to find our way. Although I mainly use my smartphone for navigation these days, I always carry a backup.

Relying solely on technology for navigation has its drawbacks. Dead batteries or a damaged phone can quickly turn a pleasant hike into a stressful situation. This is where a paper map and knowing how to read it are essential.

You should always have a paper map in your pack and a compass. Paper is reliable even without power. It’s also helpful when you want to understand the bigger picture of the trail. Spreading out a map to make informed decisions about your route beats squinting at a small screen any day. Just be sure it’s safely tucked away in a waterproof map case or Ziploc bag.

It’s important to note that using a compass effectively with your map requires some basic navigational knowledge. Before venturing out, I highly recommend brushing up on your map and compass reading skills, especially if you plan on exploring less-traveled trails. You can even bring a GPS as a backup to your backup while you are still learning.

Backpack – Choose Wisely

Our Pick
Osprey Hikelite 26L Unisex Hiking Backpack
$115.00
  • A tensioned mesh backpanel keeps the weight off your back, enabling highly ventilated carrying comfort.
  • Clean, uncluttered designs are easy to use and understand.
  • Because rain or shine, there's no excuse to not hit the trail. Stores in a zippered pocket at the base of the pack and made with bluesign approved fabrics and DWR treatments made without PFAS.
  • + bluesign approved main body and bottom fabrics + GRS-certified 100% recycled main body and bottom fabrics + All DWR treatments made without PFAS
  • Traditional panel loader design with convenient zip access to main compartment


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Selecting a hiking backpack is a lot like picking hiking boots; you need something that perfectly balances comfort and practicality for your needs. The Osprey Hikelite 26 is a fantastic option. Not only does it come at a great price, but this recently upgraded version also features a wider trampoline back that allows for excellent ventilation – say goodbye to a sweaty back on those hot summer hikes. This bag also perfectly blends functionality with a lightweight design at under 2 lbs, deep side pockets for quick access, and just the right amount of space, making it an excellent all-around hiking essential. Trust me, this pack quickly became a staple in my hiking essentials after switching over from my old bulky pack.

For shorter hikes, I crave the feeling of freedom that comes from ditching the big backpack. I’ve found that using a waist pack is perfect for this. My pick is the Osprey Talon 6, which comfortably fits everything I need for those shorter trips. And if, on occasion, I don’t care about having a perfectly dry back, I’ll opt for the ultralight Zpacks Sub-Nero 30L (check out this video showcasing how it holds up). Sometimes I need a slightly bigger backpack when carrying heavier loads or when I know I will be spending the night on the trail. When this happens, the Osprey Stratos 34 has been my most comfortable, and dare I say stylish companion.

Footwear: Finding Your Perfect Fit

My Favourite
Merrell Moab Speed
$129.69
  • Responsible Collection: Recycled/Repurposed
  • Upper Material: mesh, TPU
  • Lining: 100% recycled mesh
  • Closure: lace
  • Footbed: EVA, removable
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Wearing the correct footwear for hiking is non-negotiable. Choosing hiking shoes is personal; some prefer the ankle support and sturdiness of hiking boots, while others prefer the lightweight flexibility of trail running shoes. Finding the perfect hiking boots depends on your personal preference and the kind of trails you’ll be conquering. If you’re sticking to well-maintained paths and enjoy flexibility, then trail runners will probably do the trick. These breathable shoes also dry quickly after accidental slips into puddles or stream crossings.

As someone who tends to gravitate toward more rugged, challenging terrain, I must admit, I have a slight bias toward hiking boots. For me, they offer the ankle support and solid construction that my adventurous spirit craves. And when tackling more unpredictable environments, hiking boots give that extra sense of safety and security that, lets me be honest, we all want. My top recommendation for hiking boots are the Topo Pursuit 2. They seamlessly blend a wide toe box to prevent blisters (we’ve all been there) with incredible cushion thanks to the high stack height. And with their super-grippy treads made to conquer tough trails, they’ve never let me down. Plus, thanks to their nifty FKT insole, these boots dry quickly, so I’m ready to tackle whatever the trail throws my way.

Hydration and Nutrition – Fuel Your Adventure

We all know that staying properly hydrated on the trail is super important. I used to love the idea of a hydration bladder and drinking effortlessly on the go. And while it did make me drink more water while hiking, over time I found myself going back to my trusty Smartwater bottles for their simple and durable design. They also have the added advantage of being easy to find at almost any gas station across the country.

Now for filtering water, my setup involves pairing my bottles with the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System. It’s super simple; you just screw the filter onto your Smartwater bottle, fill it up with water (from a stream or river), and then you can squeeze that crystal-clear filtered water right into your mouth. Although I typically opt for my Smartwater bottle setup these days, if you prefer using a hydration reservoir or are going on an adventure where you’ll need to carry a lot of water with you, the Osprey 3L reservoir is an excellent and affordable pick.

Sawyer Products SP129 Squeeze Water Filtration System
$40.79
  • Lightweight, easy to use portable water filter removes harmful bacteria, protozoa, cysts, sediment, And 100% of microplastics; Perfect for outdoor adventures, travel, or emergency preparedness
  • High-Performance 0.1 micron absolute inline filter fits in the palm of your hand and weighs just 2 ounces
  • 100% of squeeze units individually tested three times to performance standards by sawyer
  • Removable cap; Filter water straight Into mouth or bottle from included pouch; Also fits standard water bottles with 28 mm threads; Use in gravity system
  • Includes two reusable 32-Oz, BPA-Free collapsible pouches that roll up tightly for easy packing, drinking straw, one set of Sawyer inline hydration pack adapters for filter, and mesh storage bag
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And last but definitely not least on our hiking essentials checklist is packing food and snacks. Having nutritionally dense food with you fuels your body to enjoy those amazing views and reach that summit. After countless hours on various trails, I’ve found that carrying a mixture of snacks and meals is the winning combination.

I always make sure I pack a selection of snacks that will keep my energy up. These include a mixture of trail mix for that energy boost, juicy fruits to satisfy my sweet tooth (and avoid cramps.), and tasty Probars and Greenbelly meals that taste as good as if I had whipped them up in my kitchen – real, recognizable ingredients all the way.

PROBAR - Meal Bar 12 Flavor Variety Pack
$29.99
  • GLUTEN-FREE: Safe, sustainably-sourced ingredients provide the benefits of a gluten-free diet
  • See Nutrition Information on package for total fat and saturated fat content. Energy from PLANT-BASED protein and fiber from CHIA and FLAX SEEDS keep you moving whether at work or adventuring
  • 360 to 390 CALORIES: A clever mix of NATURAL ingredients work to provide healthy energy and a quick, filling meal on-the-go
  • REAL INGREDIENTS: Made-With Natural Oats, Nuts, and Seeds so you can feel good knowing you are feeding your body with safe nutrients
  • NON-GMO PROJECT VERIFIED: All PROBAR products are Non-GMO Project Verified


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But remember, packing those tasty snacks serves a dual purpose; it helps reduce waste and is better for the environment. As a general rule of thumb, I’ll pack an extra day’s worth of food just in case any unforeseen circumstances pop up along the way. This way, I’m always prepared for the unexpected. Packing the right clothes is also essential to having a fun and safe time.

Hiking Clothes: Layering for Success

Wearing the right clothing is crucial for regulating your body temperature and staying comfortable throughout your hike. Layering your clothing allows you to adapt to changing weather conditions and exertion levels. As temperatures can change rapidly on trails, especially as you gain elevation, bringing extra clothes for different weather is a good idea.

Start with a moisture-wicking base layer that will keep sweat away from your skin. Merino wool is a great option, as it’s soft, breathable, and naturally odor-resistant. For your middle layer, choose an insulating fleece or down jacket to provide warmth when temperatures drop. Opt for a lightweight, waterproof, and breathable shell jacket as your outer layer to protect yourself from wind and rain.

Don’t forget about your legs. For warmer weather, hiking pants or shorts made from quick-drying, moisture-wicking fabrics will keep you cool and comfortable. In colder weather, consider wearing thermal underwear or fleece pants under your hiking pants for extra warmth. Remember to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Bring a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen, even on cloudy days.

Additional Hiking Essentials to Consider

Now that we’ve covered the essentials let’s delve into a few additional items that can significantly enhance your hiking experience and safety. From trekking poles for added stability to a headlamp for unexpected adventures that extend past daylight, these extras can make a notable difference.

1. Trekking Poles – Your Hiking Sidekicks

TrailBuddy Lightweight Trekking Poles
$36.99
Built to Last: Whether you're hiking on rugged terrain or snowshoeing on fresh powder, you need hiking gear that can keep up! Trailbuddy trekking poles are strong enough to withstand any weather condition.
Lightweight: These hiking poles are crafted with strong aircraft-grade 7075 aluminum, tougher than carbon fiber yet weighing almost 4oz less than your average trekking poles for hiking.
Adjustable: Set to your desired height in seconds, from the 54
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While not mandatory for every hike, trekking poles provide numerous benefits, especially on longer hikes or for those carrying heavier packs. They offer increased stability and balance, particularly on uneven terrain. Imagine gracefully navigating those rocky paths, feeling sure-footed with every step. Plus, they can reduce strain on your knees and joints, making those downhill stretches a breeze.

Additionally, trekking poles can be a godsend when crossing streams or navigating slippery surfaces. Personally, I’ve found them invaluable for maintaining balance on wet rocks and uneven trails. They provide an extra point of contact, giving you a sense of security and confidence as you explore. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting, consider adding trekking poles to your gear; they might just become your new best friends on the trail.

2. Headlamp – Light Up the Trail

A headlamp is a must-have, even if you don’t plan on hiking after dark. It’s always wise to pack one for emergencies or if your hike takes longer than expected. A headlamp keeps your hands free for navigating tricky terrain or setting up camp, unlike a handheld flashlight.

Choose a headlamp with adjustable brightness settings to conserve battery life. Look for one that’s comfortable to wear and provides a wide beam of light for better visibility. Black Diamond and Petzl offer reliable and feature-rich headlamps that cater to various budgets and needs. Trust me; having a reliable source of light when you need it most brings peace of mind on any hiking adventure.

3. First Aid Kit – Be Prepared for Anything

LIVANS Tactical First Aid Pouch
$17.99
TRI-FOLD DESIGN: EMT pouch use tri-fold design, internally has spacious compartments which include several pockets, strong elastic loops and instrument holders, a Velcro safety strap, and zippered mesh compartments for small first aid supplies.
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Accidents can happen, so having a well-stocked first aid kit is non-negotiable. Customize your kit based on your hiking plans and group size. At a minimum, it should include essentials like adhesive bandages, antiseptic wipes, pain relievers, gauze pads, blister treatment, and any personal medications.

Knowing how to use your first-aid kit effectively is just as important as having one. Consider taking a wilderness first aid course to gain the skills and confidence to handle various medical situations that may arise on the trail. Preparedness is key, and being equipped to handle minor injuries or emergencies ensures a safer and more enjoyable hiking experience for everyone.

4. Sun Protection – Shield Yourself

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Skorcha Face

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Hydrating, antioxidant-boosted natural face sunscreen crafted for adventure and endurance sports.

The sun’s rays can be powerful, even on cloudy days, so protecting yourself is crucial. Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin, even on cloudy days. Reapply every two hours, especially after sweating or swimming.

Don’t forget a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face and neck. Sunglasses with UV protection are essential for shielding your eyes from harmful rays. Remember, prolonged sun exposure can lead to sunburn, heat exhaustion, and even heat stroke. Taking preventive measures ensures you can focus on enjoying your hike without worrying about the sun’s harmful effects.

5. Emergency Shelter – Stay Protected

Even on a day hike, weather conditions can change unexpectedly. Bringing along an emergency bivvy sack or a lightweight tarp can provide crucial protection from the elements if you get stuck outdoors. A bivvy sack is a waterproof, breathable bag designed to keep you warm and dry in an emergency.

It’s compact and lightweight, making it an excellent addition to your pack. A tarp offers versatility; you can use it to create a makeshift shelter from rain, wind, or sun. Choose a brightly colored option for better visibility in an emergency. Having an emergency shelter provides peace of mind, knowing you’re prepared for unexpected overnight stays due to changing weather or unforeseen circumstances. Stay warm and dry should the unexpected occur.

6. Repair Kit and Tools – Be Ready for Mishaps

LEATHERMAN, Wave+, 18-in-1 Full-Size
$119.95
  • A Leatherman for Everyone: For the last 40 years, Leatherman has been empowering millions to conquer the expected & unexpected, transforming everyday challenges into triumphant moments
  • Engineered to Withstand: From our Portland, Oregon factory and backed by our 25-year warranty, our multi-tools are built to last a lifetime, embodying the innovation & perseverance of our founder, Tim Leatherman
  • Our Best-Selling All-Rounder: From household fixes & DIY pursuits to gardening and exploring the outdoors, Wave+ helps you do it all; Weighing just 8.5 ounces, this pocket-sized tool is perfect for everyday carry
  • A DIY Must-Have: This multi-tool empowers you to DIY like a pro; Includes tools like a saw, easy-to-use spring-action scissors, a ruler & more to help you conquer any DIY project, big or small
  • Ready for Anything: A fresh upgrade to our most popular multitool; Now includes premium replaceable wire cutters, so you can keep using this professional-grade multi-tool for years to come
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Imagine this; you’re miles into a challenging trail, and suddenly, your backpack strap snaps, or you get a flat tire on your bike. Frustrating, right? Carrying a basic repair kit can be a lifesaver in such situations. Pack a multi-tool with pliers, a knife, and a screwdriver for quick fixes on the go.

Add duct tape (a hiker’s best friend.), zip ties, a small sewing kit, and a lighter to your kit. These items can come in handy for gear repairs, first aid, and even starting a fire if needed. Remember those darn tough socks we talked about earlier? Well, a little needle and thread can work wonders for extending their lifespan. Being able to handle minor mishaps independently keeps your adventure running smoothly and prevents a small inconvenience from turning into a major setback.

7. Emergency Whistle – A Sound of Safety

An emergency whistle is a small but mighty tool that can make a big difference in an emergency. It’s much louder than your voice and can be heard over long distances, making it easier for rescuers to locate you if you become lost or injured. Choose a whistle with a high pitch that’s easy to blow, even when you’re out of breath.

Attach the whistle to your backpack or keep it readily accessible in a pocket. Before heading out on your hike, familiarize yourself with the universal distress signal, which is three blasts on the whistle. Repeat as necessary. A whistle is a simple, inexpensive safety tool that can be a true lifesaver in a crisis situation, providing a beacon of hope when you need it most.

8. Bear Spray (For Bear Country) – Hike with Confidence

If you’re hiking in bear country, carrying bear spray is highly recommended. Bear spray is a highly concentrated pepper spray that can deter a bear attack. Choose an EPA-approved bear spray and ensure it’s readily accessible on your hip belt, not buried deep inside your pack.

Familiarize yourself with how to use the bear spray properly before heading out. Watch instructional videos and read the instructions on the canister. Remember, bear spray is a deterrent and is most effective when used appropriately. Hiking in bear country requires respect for wildlife and taking necessary precautions. Carrying bear spray is a responsible practice that ensures both your safety and the well-being of these magnificent creatures.

9. Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or Satellite Messenger – Ultimate Peace of Mind

Garmin inReach Mini 2, Lightweight and Compact Satellite Communicator
$355.99
  • Compact, lightweight satellite communicator enables two-way messaging and interactive SOS globally (Active satellite subscription required. Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communication devices.).Special Feature:Bluetooth.Water Resistant: Yes
  • Navigate back to where you started by using TracBack routing
  • Share your location with loved ones back home at any time (active satellite subscription required) by using your MapShare page or with your coordinates embedded in your messages
  • Get accurate heading information using the digital compass — even when you’re not moving
  • Sync with the Garmin Explore app and website on your compatible smartphone for trip planning and topographical mapping, and create waypoints, courses, activities and collections you can sync to your device
  • Pair with Garmin devices, such as wearables and handhelds, and use them to send and receive messages and trigger an SOS (active satellite subscription required)
  • Battery life: up to 14 days in 10-minute tracking mode


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For remote backcountry adventures, especially when cell service is unreliable, consider investing in a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) or a satellite messenger like the Garmin inReach Mini. These devices use satellite technology to send for help in emergencies, even when you’re out of cell phone range.

A PLB is a dedicated emergency device that sends a distress signal to search and rescue services, providing your exact location. Satellite messengers, like the inReach Mini, offer two-way communication, allowing you to send text messages, track your location, and even share your journey with loved ones. Knowing that you have a lifeline to the outside world brings peace of mind, allowing you to focus on exploring the wilderness with confidence.

FAQs about Hiking Essentials

FAQ 1: What is the most important thing to bring hiking?

Without a doubt, having enough water is the most critical factor in your hiking experience. I recommend having at least one liter of water per hour of hiking. Trust me, getting dehydrated on the trail can quickly put a damper on even the most breathtaking scenery. So, make sure your hydration game is on point.

FAQ 2: What are the 3 basic skills in hiking?

First on my list would have to be navigation. Mastering this ensures you can confidently find your way and avoids the stress of getting lost, especially in unfamiliar territory. Next would be learning how to pack your backpack efficiently. This might seem simple, but distributing weight evenly can significantly improve your comfort. Trust me, a well-packed pack can be a game-changer. Lastly, I recommend being prepared for emergencies by familiarizing yourself with basic first-aid and learning how to deal with common hiking-related issues, like blisters, for instance.

FAQ 3: How to pack a day pack for hiking?

Packing your bag properly is a true art form, but thankfully, with a bit of practice, it’s something anyone can master. The key is strategic organization. Your hiking essentials should be easily accessible. Keeping items like snacks, sunscreen, and your map within reach ensures you aren’t digging through your bag when you need them most. Heavier items are best stored close to your back for better weight distribution and to help prevent those pesky backaches. Keep in mind weather conditions can change quickly, especially in mountainous regions. Be sure to pack extra layers, including a waterproof jacket, to avoid being caught off guard.

FAQ 4: How much water for 3 days hiking?

For a three-day trip, you would want at the very least 6 liters of water. Having extra water is always a safe bet, especially in warmer climates. Remember, your water needs are impacted by several different factors; think fitness level, the overall intensity of the hike, weather (is it super hot out or are you in more mild temperatures), and altitude. Before deciding on the exact amount of water, familiarize yourself with your planned route; note if water sources are readily available along the way. If they are, packing a water filter or purification tablets will give you the freedom to refill your water supply and minimize what you carry on your back.

Conclusion

Proper preparation is key for a fun, enjoyable, and most importantly, safe experience. Investing in durable and reliable hiking essentials might seem unnecessary. But trust me, being caught off guard without proper gear is never ideal. Remember to carefully plan each trip in advance. Account for distance, difficulty, weather conditions, and trail terrain. Remember this; having the right hiking essentials isn’t just about comfort; it’s about ensuring your well-being. Enjoy those stunning trails and make memories.

Mick Wadley

Mick Wadley – Founder of Skorcha

After a decade in the scorching sun as a roofer and going door-to-door in sales – I was forced to take my skin health seriously following a skin cancer scare before the age of 30.

So began my passion for suncare, which is both effective and natural. Crafted for adventure and endurance sports, Skorcha formulas are non-greasy, have no eye sting and absolutely no bullshit (100% Organic).

My goal is to share what I’ve learned about skin health and safe ingredients, inspiring happier, healthier lives through adventure, organic goodness and conservation!

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